CONMEBOL (South America)
Best WC Performance: Winners – 1978 & 1986
Current World Ranking – 5
Few countries can boast as rich a footballing history as Argentina. The South American giants boast a bulging trophy cabinet containing two World Cup trophies, 14 Copa America titles and a Confederations Cup. They even collected a pair of Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008.
World Cup history is littered with moments of Argentinian brilliance and controversy. Never was this more apparent than during Mexico 1986 when Diego Maradona confirmed his footballing immortality with perhaps the greatest ever individual World Cup campaign. In one quarter final clash against England the iconic number 10 captured everything that Argentinian football has become synonymous with; Flair, entertainment and genius mixed with a healthy dose of the dark arts.
The aforementioned clash with England (as well as the Falklands War) spawned a heated rivalry between Argentina and England. The career of David Beckham was shaped around the red card shame of St Etienne in 1998 and redemption in Sapporo, 2002. Argentina have played a key role in creating football as we know it on our own shores as well as worldwide.
Goalkeepers: Willy Caballero (Chelsea), Franco Armani (River Plate), Nahuel Guzman (Tigres).
Defenders: Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), Federico Fazio (Roma), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United), Nicolas Taglafico (Ajax), Javier Mascherano (Hebei Fortune), Marcos Acuna (Sporting Lisbon), Cristian Ansaldi (Torino).
Midfielders: Ever Banega (Sevilla), Lucas Biglia (AC Milan), Angel Di María, Giovani Lo Celso (both Paris St-Germain), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham), Cristian Pavon (Boca Juniors), Maximiliano Meza (Independiente), Eduardo Salvio (Benfica).
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala (both Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City).
- Vs Iceland 16:00, 16.06.18 Otkrytie Arena, Moscow
- Vs Croatia 21:00, 21.06.18 Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
- Vs Nigeria 21:00, 26.06.18 Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg
Manager – Jorge Sampaoli
Rumours and reports suggest that Lionel Messi will have a major role in shaping the final squad but officially the manager is Jorge Sampaoli. He was appointed after a hugely successful spell in charge of Chile; in which he led Alexis Sanchez and his men to their first ever Copa America title. A brief spell in charge of Sevilla gave him top level club experience. He goes in to the World Cup as a respected manager. It won’t be as much fun as having Maradona in charge though!
Ridiculously, with the talent at their disposal, Argentina very nearly missed out on a trip to Russia altogether. They made a complete hash of their qualifying campaign, leaving themselves with a must win, high altitude final game in Ecuador.
As it happened, this pressure cooker of a match simply enabled Lionel Messi to further enhance his claim as the greatest player of all time. His hat-trick in a 1-3 victory propelled his nation to the finals and went a long way to convincing the last few doubters he had at international level that he is their main hope for success.
Even, though, with this final positive memory, Argentina must surely have concerns after a campaign in which they failed to beat Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela amongst others.
Captain – Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi will be decorating his blue and white strip with the captain’s armband. He has completed his evolution in to national talisman and will be looking to turn a team of international superstars in to a cohesive unit. If he was to be the captain lifting the trophy in July it would surely elevate him to the status of ‘greatest of all time’.
Danger Man – Lionel Messi
It feels entirely pointless to complete this section. If you are not aware who Argentina’s danger man is then there is probably not much point in tuning in over the summer. Obviously, as always, opposition team talks will focus around the magician Messi. He sits atop the nation’s all-time leading scorer chart with 61 goals and will be looking to add many more. Messi will have unfinished business after defeat in the final last time, in which he missed a 1 on 1 chance that likely still haunts him. It should be mentioned that his supporting cast in attack is pretty incredible also.
Young Player – Paulo Dybala
Paulo Dybala finds himself in a strange position of being one of the best young talents in world football but far from secure in starting for the national side. At 24 he is no rookie but Russia 2018 offers him the opportunity of a career defining summer.
25 goals for Juventus this season suggest he has the big game mentality required to succeed at the highest level. This goal record at club record makes it even more surprising that he is yet to score for Argentina. Dybala has only managed 12 caps to this point. If he is hoping to go down as a legend of the national side, he probably needs to enhance his reputation in Russia.
Premier League Players
Not as many as you may think. Sergio Aguero has been prolific in the Premiership for years now but has found it tougher to work around Messi. City teammate Nicolas Otamendi will be a vital figure in a very questionable backline. Some supporters may be surprised to learn that Manuel Lanzini has played a key role in recent national squads, though a serious injury suffered in training means he will play no part in Russia. The fact that Argentina will likely select Willy Caballero between the sticks explains in part why Argentina are not runaway favourites this summer
Argentina go in to the tournament as resounding favourites to top their group. Their squad must be one of the most valuable in the world and it would take a brave man to bet against them reaching the latter stages. They have the potential to go all the way. The recent 6-1 defeat to Spain though suggests that they also have the potential to implode in dramatic style.
There are no walkovers in this group. Argentina should fare better than England in 2016 in disposing of Iceland in their opener. The clash with Croatia in the second rotation has the potential to be one of the games of the group stages. I would predict that the winner of this will win the group. I’d certainly back Argentina to qualify for the second round. In terms of their overall tournament, nothing would surprise me. I could imagine great success or dismal failure. Either way, it should be entertaining to watch.
My Final Prediction – 2nd in Group – eliminated controversially in Quarters
Written by Dan Fox.